CITY PARKS FORUM
How cities use parks for...
Parks provide intrinsic environmental,
aesthetic, and recreation benefits to our cities.
They are also a source of positive economic
benefits.They enhance property values, increase
municipal revenue, bring in homebuyers and
workers, and attract retirees.
At the bottom line, parks are a good financial
investment for a community. Understanding
the economic impacts of parks can help decision
makers better evaluate the creation and
maintenance of urban parks.
Key Point #1
Real property values are positively affected.
Key Point #2
Municipal revenues are increased.
Key Point #3
Affluent retirees are attracted and retained.
Key Point #4
Knowledge workers and talent are attracted to live
Key Point #5
Homebuyers are attracted to purchase homes.
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and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
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KEY POINT #1:
Real property values are
More than 100 years ago, Frederick Law Olmsted conducted
a study of how parks help property values. From 1856 to
1873 he tracked the value of property immediately adjacent
to Central Park, in order to justify the $13 million spent on its
creation. He found that over the 17-year period there was a
$209 million increase in the value of the property impacted
by the park.
As early as the 19th century the positive connection between
parks and property values was being made. Olmsted's analysis
shows the real dollar amount impact of parks. His study was
not a unique situation, however. Several studies conducted
over the last 20 years reaffirm his findings, in cities across the
country. Below are more examples of how proximity to a
park setting is connected to property values.
Chattanooga,Tennessee: In the early 1980s this city was
facing rising unemployment and crime, polluted air, and a deteriorating
quality of life.To lure middle-class residents back, local
government, businesses, and community groups decided to
improve the quality of life by cleaning the air, acquiring open
space, and creating parks and trails. As a result, property values
rose more than $11 million, an increase of 127.5 percent.
Atlanta: After Centennial Olympic Park was built, adjacent
condominium prices rose from $115 to $250 a square foot.
As noted on the Centennial Olympic Park website,
“Thousands of people who have made the move to downtown
Atlanta have chosen Centennial Olympic Park as their
front yard.” www.centennialpark.com.
Amherst, Massachusetts:Cluster housing with dedicated
open space was found to appreciate at an annual rate of 22
percent, compared to a comparable conventional subdivision's
rate of 19.5 percent.This translated in 1989 dollars to a
difference of $17,100.
KEY POINT #2:
Municipal revenues are increased.
Another component of the Central Park study was an
assessment of increased tax revenue as a result of the park.
The annual excess of increase in tax from the $209 million in
property value was $4 million more than the increase in annual
debt payments for the land and improvement. As a result of
building Central Park, New York City made a profit.
Increased property values and increased municipal revenues
go hand in hand. Property tax is one of the most important
revenue streams for cities. By creating a positive climate for
increased property values, the tax rolls will benefit in turn. As
shown with Central Park, parks can both pay for themselves
and generate extra revenue. In addition, tax revenues from
increased retail activity and tourism-related expenditures further
increase municipal monies.
Property Tax Benefits
Chattanooga: Improvements in Chattanooga resulted in an
increase in annual combined city and county property tax revenues
of $592,000 from 1988 to 1996, an increase of 99 percent.
(Lerner and Poole, 1999).
Boulder:The presence of a greenbelt in a Boulder neighborhood
was found to add approximately $500,000 in property
tax revenue annually.
Sales Tax Benefits
Oakland, California:The presence of the East Bay Regional
Park District is estimated to stimulate about $254 million
annually in park-related purchases, of which $74 million is
spent in the local East Bay economy.
Shopping Districts: Surveys indicate that prices for products
in districts with trees were on average about 11 percent
greater than in no-tree districts; the quality of products were
rated 30 percent higher than in areas with no sidewalk
Atlanta: Centennial Olympic Park has an estimated 1.5
million visitors each year, attending 175 public events.
San Antonio,Texas: Riverwalk Park, created for $425,000, is
lined with outdoor cafes, shops, bars, art galleries, and hotels,
and has overtaken the Alamo as the most popular attraction
for the city's $3.5-billion tourism industry.
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KEY POINT #3:
Affluent retirees are attracted and
"There is a new, clean growth industry in America today—
The industry is retirement migration" (Foreward in Longino,
By the year 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,
approximately 1 in every 4 Americans will be 65 years of age
or older, creating an affluent group of retirees with financial
benefits, including Social Security, military benefits, and pension
plans. With an average life expectancy of between 75 and 83
years, this is a significant population group, both in size and
They are also mobile, moving to various locations across the
country—places as diverse as northern Wisconsin and
Michigan, the mountains of Colorado and Montana, and New
England. Members of this mobile retiree cohort have been
termed "GRAMPIES": (Growing [number of] Retired Active
Monied People In Excellent Shape).
GRAMPIES want communities that provide leisure and
recreation amenities. In a study by Miller et al. (1994), a retiree
sample was asked to review 14 features and indicate their
importance in the decision to move.The first three in rank
order were scenic beauty, recreational opportunities, and mild
Retirees bring expendable income into their communities. If
100 retired households come to a community in a year, each
with a retirement income of $40,000, their impact is similar to
that of a new business spending $4 million annually in the
community. (Crompton, p. 65).
They increase the tax base and are "positive" taxpayers, using
fewer services than they pay for through taxes. For example,
they pay taxes to school districts but do not send children
KEY POINT #4:
Knowledge workers and talent are
attracted to live and work.
"…cities are characterized by a sense of place, beauty in the
natural environment, a mixed-use transportation system and a
24-hour lifestyle.These are the characteristics that will attract
the creativity and brainpower that undergird the new economy."
Steven Roulac, futurist,The Roulac Group.
A significant change has occurred in the American economy.
Industry today is composed of smokeless industries, high technology,
and service-sector businesses, collectively referred to
as the "New Economy." The workers in the New Economy are
selling their knowledge, as opposed to physical labor, as the
main source of wealth creation and economic growth. These
employees, referred to in studies as "knowledge workers" or
"talent," work in a "footloose" sector—companies are not tied
to a certain location in order to achieve a competitive advantage.
What the companies are attached to is retaining their talent
and attracting more talent. As a result, several studies have
been conducted to determine what factors are important to
talent when they are making employment decisions.
A survey of 1,200 high technology workers in 1998 by KPMG
found that quality of life in a community increases the attractiveness
of a job by 33 percent.
Knowledge workers prefer places with a diverse range of outdoor
recreational activities, from walking trails to rock climbing.
Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver, and San Francisco are
among the top cycling cities; they also are among the leaders
in knowledge workers.
Workers attracted to an area are then positioned
to put money back into the local economy through jobs,
housing, and taxes, which then contribute to parks.
Retirees transfer significant assets into local investment and
banking institutions, expanding the local deposit base that can
be used for commercial and industrial financing.
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KEY POINT #5:
Homebuyers are attracted to
"Parks, ponds, bike paths." "Nearly five acres of woodland
protected as a nature sanctuary" "My lake…my park…my
All around the U.S. real estate brokers and homebuilders are
advocating parks as one of the top residential selling points.
The desire to live near parks also translates into real dollars.
A 2001 survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR)
revealed that 57 percent of voters would choose a home
close to parks and open space over one that was not.
In addition, the NAR survey found that 50 percent of voters
would be willing to pay 10 percent more for a house located
near a park or protected open space.
The National Association of Home Builders found that 65
percent of home shoppers surveyed felt that parks would
seriously influence them to move to a community.
According to Economics Research Associates (ERA), a 1991
survey in Denver found that 48 percent of residents would
pay more to live in a neighborhood near a park or greenway.
One of the most popular planned community models today is
golf-course residential development. However, surveys have
shown that the majority of people who live in golf course
communities don't play golf regularly—as many as two-thirds,
according to ERA.They are attracted to the dedicated open
space, the expansive views, and the guarantee that both elements
will stay the same. By promoting, supporting, and revitalizing
urban parks, cities can help attract a significant portion
of the homebuying community.
Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate. December 11, 2000. "Ten U.S.
Cities Among 20 in the World Poised to Reap Benefits of New Economy."
Press Release:The Roulac Group.
Center for Urban Horticulture. November 1998. "Trees in Business Districts:
Positive Effects on Consumer Behavior!" Seattle, Wash.: University of
Crompton, John L. November 2001. Parks and Economic Development. PAS
Report No. 502. Chicago: APA.
Florida, Richard. January 2000. "Competing in the Age of Talent: Quality of
Place and the New Economy." Prepared for the R.K. Mellon Foundation,
Heinz Endowments, and Sustainable Pittsburgh.
National Park Service. 1995. Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers,Trails, and
Greenway Corridors: A Resource Book. Washington, D.C.: NPS Rivers,Trails and
Conservation Assistance. Fourth Edition.
Phillips, Patrick L. n.d. ERA Issue Paper: Real Estate Impacts of Urban Parks. Los
Angeles: Economics Research Associates.
Urban Land Institute. 1994. Golf Course Development and Real Estate.
Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute.
For further information on this paper, please contact the author, Megan
Lewis, AICP, Assistant Director of The City Parks Forum, 312-786-6363;
Cover photo: San Antonio Riverwalk, courtesy of Alexander Garvin
Foster, Mary. November 6, 1999. "Better homes have gardens, parks." New
Handley, John. September 5, 1999. "Gold Medal." Chicago Tribune, Section 16,
Harnik, Peter. 2000. Inside City Parks.Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute.
Lerner, Steve and William Poole. 1999. The Economic Benefits of Parks and
Open Space: How Land Conservation Helps Communities Grow and Protect the
Bottom Line.The Trust for Public Land.
Longino, C.F. Jr. 1995. Retirement Migration in America. Houston:Vacation
MacKay, Ned. December 21, 2000. "Putting a price on the value of open
space." Contra Costa Times, Oakland, Cal.
Miller, W., et al. 1994. Retirement In-Migration Study. Mississippi State, Miss.:
Southern Rural Development Center.
City Parks Forum Briefing Papers
This is one in a continuing series of briefing papers on how cities
can use parks to address urban challenges.We hope the information
here helps you to create great urban parks in your city.
Please visit our website at www.planning.org/cpf to learn more
about The City Parks Forum.
Copyright © 2002 by American Planning Association
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